My View On The State of Hockey Journalism

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I had the itch yesterday and wanted to dust off the ole’ blog.

I don’t really consider myself a journalist, although I did minor in the practice in undergrad, and have written a couple of longform pieces that fall outside of my normal practice of statistical hockey analysis. That said, I feel pretty strongly that what’s out there on average, particularly in the field of sports journalism — especially in terms of hockey journalism — could be a lot more convincing than it is..

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How I would “Fix” the NHL All-Star Game

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It seems like there have been 1000 of these articles written, so I thought I would throw my hat in the ring.

First of all, it’s important to remember that an All-Star Game is primarily for kids. When you’re 6 or 10 or even 14, All-Star Games are a novelty with no equal, the opportunity to see your heroes play together in a best-on-best competition, while learning more about their personalities. When I was younger, I got to go to the game in Montreal, the one where Alex Kovalev scored a hat-trick, the shootout winner, and game MVP. The Bell Centre was going crazy, it was a great environment, and a cool event. Live music (kinda trashy live music, but you take what you can get), different jerseys, all the stars, I loved it.

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On the St. Louis Blues and Seizing Rams Fever

There have been a lot of murmurs of late about the St. Louis Blues’ interest in Jonathan Drouin. There have also been rumors about the availability of star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. In short, nobody really knows what the Blues will look like come March, which is odd, considering they currently sit third in a competitive Central Division, 11 points clear of losing a playoff spot, and 10th in Score-Adjusted Corsi percentage.

But this uncertainty stems from the team’s salary situation. The Blues are a budget team, and one which, with this core of playoffs, has blown series leads and lost first round playoff series in consecutive years. Captain David Backes is a UFA this summer, and will likely command a huge raise despite nobody being quite clear on just how good he is. Shattenkirk is under contract at a reasonable $4.225 million for this year and next, but then he too will command a big salary, so it’s reasonable to entertain dealing him while he still has serious value.

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AP Hockey Story of the Day: November 13 – Building An Analytics Team

This piece from Trey Causey is absolutely spot on. If you’re involved in an organization in any sport, you need to give this to your President/GM/Owner. This is how analytics will help your team win, and luckily, you have a major first mover advantage – especially in something like hockey – because while teams are now using analytics, nobody is using it quite like this yet.

One point I’ll expand on quickly when it comes to hockey is the idea of time horizons. Coaches tend to worry more about immediate payoffs than GMs, because their jobs are more likely to be in immediate jeopardy if the wins don’t come. But that isn’t the way it should be. Coaches need to understand and employ analytics, but they also need to be given assurances that they will be judged based on process, rather than results. At least in the near term. All parts of the organization need to be moving in the same direction, and only then can output be optimized. If a GM isn’t willing to take that approach with a certain coach, then hire a coach with whom you’re comfortable enough to do so.

AP Hockey Story of the Day: October 30

It’s been a busy few days for great writing, and with midterms I didn’t get a chance to post anything yesterday, so this post is going to highlight multiple great reads with some thoughts.

1. Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star penned this interesting piece on the Toronto Raptors’ use of bioanalytics to prevent injuries. Bioanalytics isn’t something I’ve delved too far into since, simply put, it’s not my field of passion or expertise, but there is undoubtedly an opening for this type of work in hockey. The tough part when it comes to any kind of physical testing (this relates back to speed performance tracking as well) is differentiating the meaningful material from the noise. For example, the fact that x player averages y speed in a game one day could mean that he needs to get more sleep or that the training routine must be adjusted, but it could also just be a symptom of the fact that in certain situations it doesn’t make sense to go full-speed. It’s something teams will need to handle with care, but with the amount of money at stake, and the ruinous effect injuries can have, it’s something worth an investment.

2. Jacob Rosen of Sports Analytics blog wrote their (always solid) weekly analytics roundup and discussed why it’s so important for good public work to continue to prosper and be circulated. If you’re not following Sports Analytics Blog on Twitter, make sure to do so. You’ll miss far less great content from now on.

3. Friend of the blog Rob Vollman published a nice look at coaching changes over at ESPN Insider. The research seems overwhelming that in-season coaching changes in general don’t massively impact possession numbers, and generally it is the less sustainable shooting and save percentages that tend to regress, making new coaches look all the better. My question with regards to this would be: We know that something like a coaching change can motivate players to try just that little bit harder, to pay just a little bit more attention to detail maybe, at least for a few weeks. Is it possible that just because a high shooting or save percentage isn’t sustainable, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be influenced by such a kick in the pants? Whether one can find non-variance-based causal explanations for unsustainable performance is one of the great mysteries, at least to me, about sports. And it’s something that hopefully we can find a way to determine in the future.

4. On that note, last – but certainly not least – Joe Posnanski (possibly the greatest sportswriter on the planet) wrote an awesome feature on Bill James, somebody who I admire greatly, not just for what he did for analytics, but for his ability to recognize areas in which he failed early on, and how he has had to change his attitude upon further reflection.

“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Obviously Bill James didn’t coin the phrase but I will always associate it with him. How hard must it be for essentially the grandfather of modern baseball statistical usage to turn around and say that clutch hitting exists as a trait, despite what the numbers say on the subject. Going back to the Vollman piece, there is no evidence that shooting and save percentages can be heavily influenced by individuals in the short term, since they tends to not be able to persist. But I’m not sure I’m willing to close the book on that just yet.

AP Hockey Story of the Day: October 23

Craig Custance has a great (unfortunately insider only) piece on coaching salaries in the NHL, and Mike Babcock’s stand for his fellow coach. It’s a very interesting read.

The biggest reason why hockey is so in need of a catch-all stat isn’t for basic analysis, because combining different metrics isn’t so hard, but it’s so that there’s a baseline for salaries. Being able to say that Bryan Bickell adds 2.4 wins per season above replacement but Joel Quenneville adds 3 would be huge, and would affect salaries in a big way, equivalent to what has happened at the GM level in baseball.

On Martin Brodeur, “GOAT”, and Longevity

There was a report published today that the Montreal Canadiens have, or had, or might have had interest in Martin Brodeur as a backup goalie to Carey Price. I’m shady on the details not because I’m journalistically ignorant, but because I don’t care. Brodeur is, frankly, no longer an NHL calibre goalie, the Canadiens are set (or, I guess, already over capacity) in net, and to be quite honest none of this has anything to do with why I’m writing this piece.

I’m writing on Martin Brodeur because Joe Posnanski answered a mailbag question about Derek Jeter today that reminded me of a topic I had been meaning to write about for some time: Longevity.

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